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Elijah's Violin
David AMRAM (b. 1930) Violin Sonata (1951) [18:10]
Abraham ELLSTEIN (1907-1963) Haftorah (1951) [18:10]
Menahem AVIDOM (1908-1995) Concertino (1951) [18:10]
Efrem ZIMBALIST (1889-1985) Orientale (1951) [18:10]
Paul BEN-HAIM (1907-1984) Arabic Song; Improvisation and Dance (1951) [10:54]
Julius CHAJES (1910-1985) Tefilah; Hecchasid (1951) [18:10]
Paul KIRMAN (fl.1930s-1940s) Four Ancient Hebrew Airs: Sephardic Song; Danse Galicienne; Chanson Palestinienne; Yemenite Song (1940s?) [11:21]
Zina Schiff (violin)
Cameron Grant (piano)
rec. 4-5 Oct 2000, Jazz City Production Studios, Greene St, New York City. DDD
4TAY CD-4030 [67:20]

This is the third of Zina Schiff's CDs for 4TAY. It continues her exploration of music on the theme of Jewish legends. The other two are The Golden Dove 4Tay CD-4022 and King David's Lyre 4Tay CD-4002. In each of these discs she is most artistically accompanied by Cameron Grant.

The single most substantial work in this collection is the only Violin Sonata represented. It is by David Amram a composer who also has a CD in the wide-ranging Naxos Milken series. Amram provided the music for Joseph Papp's famous Shakespeare in the Park productions. He has been an active jazz musician and wrote the scores for the 1960s feature films Splendor in the Grass and The Manchurian Candidate.

The Amram Sonata is an early and very cohesive piece from the 1950s. It has an impressive central andante espressivo with a faintly bluesy inflection; overall the 'signature' is distinctively Jewish. The finale has an additional 'sway' inspired by the music-making of Charlie Mingus. The result could have been ill-assorted but it works well. Amram is free with his tonal scheme, happy to draw modestly on atonality but by no means doctrinaire. It is a fascinating sonata and one that makes me keen to hear more. Hearing that first movement again prompts parallels with works such as the florid second violin sonatas by John Ireland and Thomas Dunhill.

Ellstein is a name now familiar from his operettas enjoyably represented in two volumes of the Naxos Milken series. Haftorah is loving, impassioned and reverential. It smokes with sinuous ululation.

Menahem Avidom was a Galician Jew who emigrated to Palestine in 1925. The three movement Concertino is a worldly sweet lilt of a piece with a sort of Havanaise air to it. It was written for Heifetz (Schiff is a Heifetz protégé) and performed by him in a controversial concert in Jerusalem in 1953 at which the violinist's inclusion of the Richard Strauss violin sonata resulted in a physical assault on the violinist. The version recorded here is as edited by Heifetz.

Zimbalist was born in Rostov-on-Don and studied with Leopold Auer who premiered the Tchaikovsky violin concerto. He debuted in the USA with the Glazunov concerto in Boston in 1911. Zimbalist joined the staff of the Curtis Institute in 1928 becoming its director in 1941 and retiring in 1968. His Orientale combines Russian exoticism and Jewish atmosphere.

Ben-Haim was born in Munich and emigrated to Palestine in 1933. The Arabic Song has that typical Saharan sway and ululation followed by the exciting Improvisation and Dance with its dervish and Tzigane allusions all viewed through a shimmering heat-haze.

Chajes was born in Poland but emigrated to the USA and specifically Detroit in 1937. His needily imploring and trembling Tefilah and Hechassid are reverential pieces.

Apart from the fact that his four pieces were performed at the Theresienstadt concentration camp we know nothing of Paul Kirman. After the spirituality and worshipful haze of the Sephardic Song comes the dignified graceful play of Galician Dance, the pensive and subtle Palestinian Song and the earnest and then glintingly euphoric and impassioned Yemenite Song.

The notes are thorough though they do not always date the works played. The only other downbeat is the slightly too close hot-house recording balance.

An attractive and unhackneyed selection of music by Jewish composers much of it with an exotic edginess. With one or two exceptions it steers clear of the salon.

Rob Barnett



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